The new normal: Planning and scheduling alongside COVID-19

Jan. 19, 2021
Pieces are pieces and parts are parts

A few months ago, I had the undeniably emotional roller coaster ride of working on my own Planner Express (P.E.), which is my 2010 Silverado 4x4. I normally enjoy taking some much needed me-time and some precision maintenance / wrench therapy / flame throwing in the shop time, but this last project had me questioning that.

The project

The P.E. had developed some major intermittent squeaks and uncanny noises that were degrading toward high continuance (think P-F Curve now). It was riding like the Snoopy McGuillicutty mobile of old – very harsh ride, noises growing toward more daily occurrences. When the vehicle next to you rolls down the window and says, “ Hey, Steve-O – your truck is making a funny noise,” you know you gotta do something. It was time for action on my auto rack at home.

Knowing that I had files with dates and mileages / engine hours / sales rep speed numbers and jobber contact info already setup in Word document form in my home computer, I went investigating / researching. I made a research road trip for verification as per normal (I hate troubleshooting and diagnosing intermittent problems only under certain circumstances, and I value a second opinion when I am not 99% sure.)

Well, during the research road trip, I stopped in mid-journey to get a second opinion from my one jobber that I have dealt with for more than 14 years, and he came up with the same conclusion that I did – the RF strut was making valving/squeaking noises (imagine jumping on old metal mattress box springs), the LR shock seals were blown once again, and 8 to 15 miles later the LF strut began operating like the RF, which means a four-wheel suspension job once again.

My files referenced that these shocks had been replaced four times in three years, and the struts had been replaced three times in 10 years. About this time my ears were getting a little pointy and my blood was starting to boil (which is most illogical). I’m not a happy camper about now, as I value my downtime too much to be doing repeat work multiple times using aftermarket parts of poor quality.

I made a call to my jobber source and needless to say, the Parts Fairy struck: “The records could not be found in the computer – you have no lifetime warranty on anything.” Determined to get justice, I consulted my paper records and after 45 minutes of searching by hand found my receipts, which noted that the struts were removed and replaced in September 2017, and the last set of shocks were done in January 2020 – all using premium chosen lifetime parts, and all of which have now been discontinued by the jobber /supplier due to poor quality and too many warranty issues. I went back to the jobber for a face-to-face and made sure my favorite rep of 14 years was still there; he was, and we had a nice long chat, with him assuring me that (a) he found everything in the computer, and (b) did I want to go with the same defective lifetime parts, or did I want to upgrade and pay the difference?

This to me was a no-brainer here: back to OEM parts that lasted seven years each and a $80 upgrade in price with a lifetime warranty and made in the USA. (Note: If you use the same sales rep and same jobber as much as possible, the Parts Fairy and Downtime Dragon cannot be as effective during these combined encounters/situations in their attempt to slow your repairs and break your spirit.)

The rep ordered the parts with the computer showing that they were in stock for next day, and I went home to pre-start. I got an update after about five minutes of work: we are one strut short which was two weeks late from main distributor chain, but it is now on backorder. Fast forward those two weeks (awaiting parts in CMMS): I have all my parts ready in shiny new blue boxes ready with “OEM PROFESSIONAL” all over them. After opening my boxes, unfortunately, one was missing the mounting hardware kit. I just bought one out of pocket, as I already lost enough time on this headache, but reported this issue to the jobber/supplier.

Racking the P.E., I next did a thorough “shake and bake,” which checks all mechanical components in the vehicle – front end / rear end / visual inspection by trouble light as well. Lo and behold, I found a worn-out wheel bearing hub on the LF from January 2020. My good friend the Downtime Dragon had showed up once again (precision inspection as found work doing repairs). I went inside and ordered a new USA-made wheel hub assembly from my jobber. His corporate office promptly sent me the wrong one, so I reordered and paid the premium price upgrade to keep our relationship liquid.

Now after losing another two days on “ongoing repair and found work” I started once again. Getting the rear shocks on was no big deal; it took about 1.2 hours because I am a bit thorough and like to follow precision maintenance procedures. I verified the torque with my 31-year-old torque wrench. It broke during this job due to age, along with some needed sockets to finish the job.

Getting the LF strut work done took 6.5 hours. Some days you need two sets of hands for bolt alignment, and a 6-foot prybar does not hurt either. I referenced these notes on job plan in the computer for future reference. I also removed and replaced the front wheel bearing in about two hours with thorough precision maintenance procedures. After an extremely late lunch, my father and I decided to start tomorrow. Mistakes and tools dropping/breaking were happening quite often, and voices/tempers were getting raised as well.

Sunday, the next day, removing and replacing the RF strut took 59 minutes floor to floor, which meant getting ready for a celebration. I had reinstalled everything, verified proper torque, checked my mental and physical checklist by touching every fastener two to three times and satisfied everything was good to go, and it was road test time.

Sure enough more found work presented itself from my good friend the Downtime Dragon –  another squeak in reverse, only this time, upon re-racking the P.E., I found that the main rear driveshaft u-joints just P-F failed and were frozen in. Knowing full well that my green blood was boiling once over again and my ears were very pointed, I knew it was time to quit for the today. My file research said this was the third set in the last three years for replacement. I couldn’t find the warranty parts in the jobber computer on a weekend repair and out of stock. I sourced them through an online jobber, saved more than 50% on cost and got expedited shipping for next day as well, USA made. My father and I had an early lunch again and ordered parts between courses using my smartphone.

The parts came in Monday evening, and I started early Tuesday morning. I used my blue tip wrench to cut the trunnion away from the caps and removed everything in about 15 minutes flat (the retainer clips were rusted in solid and I wanted to be done ASAP…something else to add to the job plan). I used my ball joint press and air wrench to speed up reassembly and remembered that adding extra grease into each cap is a life saver so the needle bearings do not scatter on the floor during a “gravity check” (yet another job plan add). Naturally my blue battery powered grease gun was out of NLGI 2 Red Grease, and my blue manual lever one as well meant another delay in getting two tubes of grease (one for repair and one for spare, and remember to verify parts and tools at the beginning of the job). I applied 10 shots of grease at 7,000 psi and 1/10 oz. for shot (my personal favorite – volume over pressure not to blow seals) and back to precision assembly. The final road test was flawless.

Lessons learned

Viewpoint: Skilled Trades Mechanical. Even though this repair took me the better part of a month, it was done correctly. I think, living as I do in the Rust Belt of Northeast Ohio, that the P.E. might not make another seven years, but we shall see. My father and I did get to have lunch out three times at our favorite spot and that was well worth it in memories and financial savings.

Viewpoint: Purchasing and Reliability. Given the situation we’re all facing with the COVID-19 pandemic, which I like to shorten to C19-TNN, well, expect more delays than normal. If you do choose to shop local, with a little extra planning and scheduling, you’ll be balancing factors like import/inferior parts and reactive / speed / premium price methodologies. However, parts are not going to be in stock all the time, and online purchasing options, where you might get 10% off and/or free shipping in 1-2 days, works out better anyway. With some careful research you could save up to 50% plus from local. Now, with that being said, my local suppliers always get a chance to counter bid and “source” equal for equal, which they get first time opportunity and, if it makes sense, then I go that way. Your personal downtime / spare time / financial outlook / retirement accounts can be more enjoyable in the long run.

Viewpoint: Vendor Management. Overall, I believe most jobbers at the store level really want to make your problem go away. I also believe that modern Corporate America has lost the sense of true customer satisfaction, either that or I am truly a dinosaur from an age gone past. (Just ask my grandkids, they will tell you.)

Of course I still remember the days of “Yes sir, no sir, and TYVM sir, will there be anything else today, sir?” Employees were empowered to make independent decisions, and these were the norm not the exception. I also understand that profit keeps businesses open, that’s why we go to work every day. Unfortunately, when corporate discontinues your lifetime warranty parts and cannot get new ones, and they inform you that you will get full purchase price back on the upgrade minus upgrade fees, then that becomes what you expect the next time. Unfortunately, as of writing I have $1,600+ of parts that are under corporate auditing only because they “are large dollar items” and I “had so many warranties” in a short time.

How will this end? I don’t know, but it’s not looking too good at this time to finish a 14-year relationship over such a trivial amount of money.

(Note also that during this episode, several tools were broken as well. The C19-TNN has required all warranty claims be sent to the factory for appraisal, and the turnaround time is one to four weeks. My only solution is to have currently calibrated duplicates [repair plus one spare] as required at this time, as I have been advised from my customer service reps and some of those relationships go back 31 years. The reason: corporate and their staff/s are working 6/10’s or 6/12’s currently; 50% do not provide return labels (which is very disappointing), or have sales reps in the local area anymore with on-hand stock or that are not swamped, and everyone is still back logged.)

Until next time, True Believers.

About the Author: Steven J. Tuttle

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